The Secret Ingredient to Impactful 1:1s

Frank Corrigan
Growth / Analytics

Manager to direct report 1:1’s are, typically, a weekly event for connecting and aligning on priorities, approaches, and employee growth. “A 1:1 is a dedicated space on the calendar and in your mental map for open-ended and anticipated conversation between a manager and an employee.” The intent is to hear & coach employees and help them do their jobs as best they can. Some contrarians argue against the pre-scheduled 1:1 routine, but considering the general intent (to empower employees), it’s likely that these individuals simply haven’t found the right tools for creating awesome 1:1s.  

Preparing for 1:1’s - and how you execute that preparation - may be the secret ingredient that separates “must-have” sessions from “I-hate-this-job” sessions. Poor planning results in managers feeling like their employee is deadweight and the employee feeling the same! Those emotions can compound quickly and leave the whole team in a toxic situation. How might you avoid this? How do teams find a balanced approach for 1:1 preparation that doesn’t cost them serious amounts of deep work time? Here are some prevailing ideas ordered from most time-consuming to least time-consuming.

  1. The Shared Doc: Both manager and employees share a doc on a shared drive where both individuals can add topics as they arise.
  2. Software Augmented: A variation on this would be to use an async written software platform that supports meeting prep like Fellow, Asana, etc.   
  3. The Hidden Agenda: Employees write down topics as they come to mind during the week and bring that agenda to the 1:1 for discussion.
  4. Let’s Wing It: The relationship is “so good” neither manager or employee feels a need for preparation.

Even if we believe that preparation results in higher quality 1:1s, once it feels like another task and/or takes a significant amount of time… teams will gravitate toward option number 3 or shortcut the mandated routine. Either way, the benefits of active listening and coaching will be left to chance. Teams need another choice that will better balance time commitment and pre-meeting alignment. 

Writing helps us think one way. Speaking helps us think in another way. There is an old maxim; how will I know what I think, until I see what I say. The opportunity for an employee to speak and get feedback prior to the 1:1 might be a game-changer. It could allow employees to think and solve many issues for themselves, leaving 1:1 time with their manager for the most challenging - and stimulating - issues. But where would the feedback come from if I’m just speaking to myself?

From a manager's perspective, using the Storied platform to prepare for 1:1’s is as simple as asking a question, sharing a thread, and reading/listening to a response. From an employee's perspective, the magic comes from articulating a response to a question and getting an immediate text summary of their ideas - in other words, they get to see what they say. What makes this beautiful is the speed of refinement. The preparation time is less than The Shared Doc and more collaborative than The Hidden Agenda.

Manager to direct report 1:1s haven’t become a staple of business culture because they are a waste of time. However, uninspiring & unimaginative ways for preparing for 1:1s are giving them a bad reputation. Nicholas Meyer once wrote that “art doesn’t just happen by accident, it is about pulling out new tricks and trying new things.” If you are leading a team (an art to be sure) and your 1:1’s aren’t some of the most impactful hours of your week, it’s time to try something new. Meet Storied.    

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